A recently released University of Otago study highlights the need for stronger government action against sweet drinks, to counteract New Zealands overweight epidemic.
"We are the third most overweight nation in the OECD and need to do something about this," says study author Dr Kirsten Robertson.
Dr Robertson, an Otago lecturer in marketing, said that sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) were "extremely high in sugar" and drinking them was a major problem in New Zealand.
A regular 355 ml can contain about 10 or so teaspoons of sugar, she said.
Adults received 17% of their total sugar intake from SSB, she said.
The drinks had a low nutritional benefit and were a leading cause of obesity, dental loss and type 2 diabetes.
However, the study, based on a national survey of more than 2,000 people, found that people who drank SSB were less likely to try to eat healthy and also less likely than non-SSB drinkers to read food labels.
SSB drinkers were also more likely to eat fast food and confectionery.
The study, published in the international journal PeerJ, focused on people's food and beverage intake over a 24-hour period and reported themselves their intentions to eat healthy.
Of the investigators, 30.5 percent had consumed Statistics Norway in the last 24 hours.
They also showed a general pattern of unhealthy diet because they also consumed dessert, confection, fast food and ready-made food and were less likely to have breakfast or a meal made from the beginning.
Several other countries, including the United Kingdom, had successfully implemented national taxes on Statistics Norway, but New Zealand still trusted in self-regulation of industry and called for better labeling so individuals could take responsibility for their own sugar intake.
But the fact that SSB consumers were less likely than SSB consumers tried to eat healthy or read food labels raised "serious questions" if better labeling would help change their behavior, "she said.
Previous research showed that the sugar content in the SSB in New Zealand exceeded WHO recommendations, and self-regulation of industry did not work.
Sugar taxes in Britain had not affected large companies, which simply reduced the sugar content of beverages to avoid taxation.
"Therefore, we support the recommendation on sugar tax from the New Zealand Medical Association and the New Zealand Drinking Team," she says.
Given SSB consumers were less likely to read food labels, national taxes would "give a little power back" to those people who "make healthier choices without having to refer to food labels," she said.